George Zimmerman has been acquitted of all charges in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
The jury of six women informed Judge Debra Nelson shortly before 10 p.m. local time Saturday that they had reached a verdict after deliberating for approximately 15 hours over two days.
Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. After hearing the verdict, Judge Nelson told Zimmerman he was free to go.
“We’re ecstatic with the results,” defense attorney Mark O’Mara said after the verdict. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense.”
Another member of his defense team, Don West, said: “I’m glad this jury kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty.”
Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed him was a “wannabe cop” vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands, prosecutors said.
State Attorney Angela Corey said after the verdict that she believed second-degree murder was the appropriate charge because Zimmerman’s mindset “fit the bill of second-degree murder.”
“We charged what we believed we could prove,” Corey said.
A court public information officer said that members of the jury had no desire to speak to the media Saturday night. Identities of jury members are currently protected by a court anonymity order.
Supporters of Martin’s family who had gathered outside the courthouse yelled out “No! No!” when the verdict was announced.
“Today, justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP, in a statement. “We call immediately for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin. This case has re-energized the movement to end racial profiling in the United States.”
“We are outraged and heartbroken over today’s verdict,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, in another statement. “We stand with Trayvon’s family and we are called to act. We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.”
Around an hour after the verdict, Zimmerman’s father tweeted: “Our whole family is relieved. Today… I’m proud to be an American. God Bless America! Thank you for your prayers!”
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, tweeted “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!”
The verdict came a year and a half after civil rights protesters angrily demanded Zimmerman be prosecuted. That anger appeared to return Saturday night outside the courthouse, at least for some who had been following the case.
Rosie Barron, 50, and Andrew Perkins, 55, both black residents of Sanford, stood in the parking lot of the courthouse and wept.
“I at least thought he was going to get something, something,” Barron said.
Added her brother: “How the hell did they find him not guilty?”
Perkins was so upset he was shaking. “He killed somebody and got away with murder,” Perkins shouted, looking in the direction of the courthouse. “He ain’t getting no probation or nothing.”
Several Zimmerman supporters also were outside the courthouse, including a brother and sister quietly rejoicing that Zimmerman was acquitted. Both thought the jury made the right decision in finding Zimmerman not guilty — they felt that Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense.
Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Casslebury, and her brother, 52-year-old Chris Bay, stood watching the protesters chant slogans such as, “the whole system’s guilty.”
Lenzen and Bay — who are white — called the entire case “a tragedy,” especially for Zimmerman.
“It’s a tragedy that he’s going to suffer for the rest of his life,” Bay said. “No one wins either way. This is going to be a recurring nightmare in his mind every night.”
Meanwhile, authorities in Martin’s hometown of Miami said the streets were quiet, with no indication of problems. The neighborhood where Martin’s father lives in Miami Gardens was equally quiet. Protests over the verdict were reported in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Chicago, but there were no reports of injuries.
O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, said his client is aware he has to be cautious and protective of his safety.
“There still is a fringe element that wants revenge,” O’Mara said. “They won’t listen to a verdict of not guilty.”
Martin’s family can still file a civil suit against Zimmerman under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, which requires proof that Martin’s death was caused by the negligence of another person or entity. To prove negligence under the statute, it must be shown that Zimmerman owed Martin a legal duty, that the duty owed was breached, and that an injury was caused to Martin by Zimmerman’s breach.
Zimmerman was initially charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin, but jurors could have also convicted Zimmerman on the lesser charge of manslaughter. The jury had asked for a clarification on the manslaughter charge earlier in the evening. The question read simply: “May we please have clarification for the instruction on manslaughter?”
As jurors awaited an answer, Nelson talked to lawyers at the bench and then said court would recess for a half hour. When attorneys returned, prosecutor Richard Mantei said that after conducting research, he would suggest asking the jurors to elaborate. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara agreed.
“Let’s get clarification on their confusion,” O’Mara said.
The judge then sent a note back to the jury that read: “The court can’t engage in general discussion but may be able to address a specific question regarding clarification of the instructions regarding manslaughter. If you have a specific question, please submit it.”
The jury also recessed for an hour for dinner, during which they were allowed to continue deliberating. They did not immediately respond to the judge’s note.
If convicted, the former neighborhood watch volunteer would have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder or 30 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter.
During the day about two dozen people gathered outside the courthouse awaiting a verdict, with supporters of the Martin family outnumbering those there for Zimmerman. One man held a sign that read, “We love you George.” A woman lay in the grass in a hoodie, her arms spread, in a re-creation of Martin’s death.
On Twitter, Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, shared what she called her favorite Bible verse: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
During closing arguments, Zimmerman’s attorney attempted to portray him as a neighborhood activist who shot Martin in self-defense and prosecutors attempted to paint him as a wannabe cop whose misguided suspicion resulted in the teen’s death.
As the jury began their discussions, police and civic leaders in this Orlando suburb went on national television to plead for calm in Sanford and across the country, no matter what the verdict.
“There is no party in this case who wants to see any violence,” Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said. “We have an expectation upon this announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully.”
There were big protests in Sanford and other cities across the country last year when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.
Zimmerman shot Martin as the two fought following a confrontation in the gated Sanford community where Zimmerman lives.
“Your verdict should not be influenced by feelings of prejudice, bias or sympathy,” Judge Debra Nelson told the jury, reading from a 27-page set of instructions. “Your verdict must be based on the evidence, and on the law contained in these instructions.”
(Source: Fox News)